Earning, Learning and Income: A Historical Analysis of Barriers to Accessing the 'Educatuional Ladder'

Cameron, Stuart Richard (2014) Earning, Learning and Income: A Historical Analysis of Barriers to Accessing the 'Educatuional Ladder'. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In modern capitalist societies such as Britain work performed by children outside school hours is invariably officially portrayed (and, indeed, widely perceived) as a harmless, and even educational activity. However, in recent years research has shown that this ‘idealistic’ conception of employment alongside learning is not necessarily accurate. In relation to the employment of school children, since the early 1970s a host of studies have been published, which suggest that the paid labour activities performed by children in Western European nations are frequently very demanding, arduous and sometimes dangerous.

In relation to the employment of undergraduate students, both Conservative and Labour governments have presided over changes to the funding the regime that have generated a significant increase in the employment of undergraduate students. Discussions about child employment have long centred on its supposed ‘beneficial’ aspects, with advocates claiming that it has the potential to enhance pupils’ learning experiences. Since the cuts to student funding have been implemented, similar claims have been made about the ‘educational potential’ of work for undergraduate students. As with child employment, the evidence points to a far more nuanced picture regarding the impact of employment on the studies of undergraduate students, and this non-problematic conception of undergraduate employment has been challenged. Research suggests that students rarely undertake employment of any relevance to chosen studies, and that part-time work frequently appears to have a deleterious, rather than a positive impact upon academic performance.

The aim of this thesis is, using a historical perspective, to assess the competing claims that have been made about the educational utility of ‘labour’. It will show, with regards to both child employment and the employment of undergraduate students, the recent fashionable emphasis placed upon the ‘beneficial’ aspects of ‘work experience’ alongside learning is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it will be shown that this is a recurring, if unproven, theme throughout the history of debates about education reform and child employment. Likewise, that the notion that children (and indeed students) ‘enjoy’ working is not new. Nor is the insistence that employment teaches children and young people about rewards for hard work, value for money and the disciplines of getting up for work particularly novel. As will become evident, whenever further restrictions on school children’s employment have been contemplated in major inquiries into the phenomenon, these same claims have been in defence of a deregulatory approach. Hence, throughout this thesis it will be shown that the arguments today to defend child employment in Britain, and indeed the employment of undergraduate students, have a long historical pedigree. A particular focus in the thesis will be upon those interests that have traditionally defended the ‘right’ of children and young people to work, and their claims about the ‘educationally beneficial’ aspects of employment will be tested by reference to historical evidence.

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